My First Honest-to-God Wedding

I had two firsts today. I got ordained and I performed my first wedding. The ordination is actually a multi-stage process, but this morning's rite, with the elders of Hope Chapel, conferred spiritual authority and blessing to discharge the duties of a marrying pastor.

It's such a strange thing, really, to speak certain words for the first time, and not just any words, not like "ipso facto" or "a fortiori," words which I first learned and used, perhaps too zealously, in graduate school, but words that communicate actual, immediate, supernatural power.

I've never before said:

"Now that Paul and Catherine have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of a ring, I pronounce that they are husband and wife, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

I pronounce. It's astounding, and frightening. I pronounce. I! I pronounce? It's not "I make," which is a property belonging to God, not to man, but nonetheless, "I pronounce." I've never pronounced such a thing.

And then follow the most thunderous words:

"Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder."

The words are a fiery warning, not information. Let none. Not one. Let no man put asunder. A negative fiat. An anticipatory rebuke. Do not test the Lord God Almighty. And yet it's maddening. It does not say what we want it to say: None shall put asunder. It says: Let none put asunder.

No, it's not an indicative, it's a primal command. Do not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It's not that you can't, it's that you shan't. And therein lies the absolute awfulness of human freedom: we can. We can put asunder. We can break our vows. And yet God is merciful, for even when we are faithless, God is faithful. He is constant in his merciful love.

And so we proclaimed in this morning's service. Paul (Wheatley) and Catherine (Springle) will forever be my first wedding. I've given homilies before but never performances. And what an incredible privilege it is to offer such a ministry, so intimate, so poignantly dear. The last thing I told the elders as I walked out of the room this morning is, "Well, I'm off to transform culture one couple at a time." For such it is.

Anyhoo, I'm copying here the homily which I delivered at the service. My method, if it can be called such, is to combine the material of their dating relationship and their personalities with the universal truths of Scripture and Christian tradition and breathe the freshest air possible into well-traveled words, with the hope that their minds, hearts and souls will have been filled with the refreshing taste of Truth.

July 29, 2006
w. david o. taylor

Paul and Catherine’s wedding: The Homily

If there were a billboard hanging over I35 that boldly announced Paul and Catherine’s life motto, it would say: “Adventure into the Impossible.” They eat crazy Asian foods, they date as if it were a jazz improv. But driving past it, we would eventually scratch our heads and wonder: But what kind of Impossible? Because there are, in fact, two kinds of Impossible: the possible Impossible and the impossible Impossible. It’s the truth.

The first kind, the possible Impossible, includes such things as travel to the moon. For thousands of years humans never thought it possible to fly to the moon. How absurd! How preposterous! We know Icarus once made the imprudent attempt, he burned his wings, and flew headlong to an irreversible death as a lesson to us all.

What are you, out of your mind?

And then lo, 1968 arrives and we ever so casually fly to the moon. The impossible was possible after all.

An example of the second kind of impossible, the impossible kind, involves the human desire to fly—without the aid of technology. Who of us has not dreamed of flying and awoken with the most blissful sensation; and aroused with the intuition that we were meant to fly?

But no. Not in a million years. Not in a billion years. No amount of evolutionary magic will make us sprout wings. The closest thing to flying humans is flying monkeys, and they only exist in the Land of Oz. Flying humans exist in comic books and children’s dreams, nowhere else. It’s impossible. It’s not an even option. So stop thinking about it. Go back to sleep. It’s mad.

But you know what else is outlandish, mad and impossible Impossible? What you’re doing right here: holy matrimony. A happy marriage. Your vows? Impossible. You’re better off eating fairy dust. Why? Because Christian marriage is a divine affair. Do you really think either of you has the capacity to meet the other person’s need for intimacy? Heck no. Only the Master of the Universe can quench your fanatical thirst for love.

For love? For marital love? Are you kidding me, this love? It will kill you. It will want all of you, and that’s the one thing you’ll not be willing to give up—not by yourself, that is. By yourself you will cling, begrudge, resent, shut down, run away, hide, fear, complain, fight, nitpick, keep a record of wrongs, misunderstand and withhold all your love until you get what you deserve, your rights, and be miserable while the waiting. By yourself, that’s what happens. That’s the tragedy.

The comedy is that you’re not by yourself. There’s a God in heaven! There’s a God who set it up this way—for you to fail if you try to make it on your own. But he wants you to taste the most outrageous love, that you’ll feel as if you’ve died and gone to heaven. It’s Jesus. That’s the God’s name who will show you the most perfect love. And it goes like this.

Jesus dies in love and because of love, and so he invites you to die in love and because of love so that you can become like love, like himself. And just as Jesus conquers, from the inside out, all that destroys love, chiefly death, so you too, if you have any wish to truly love each other and to be loved as your soul craves to be loved, must allow yourself to be conquered—by divine love—by Christ’s love. You must be willing to accept defeat in all the places where you feel strong and special and comfortable and natural, because divine love can only make you loving and lovely if you allow it to make you weak—and un-special—and uncomfortable—and unnatural. Why? Because marital love, as established by our Father in heaven, is not natural, it is not another human tool that we control at will. It is more profoundly natural than modern man ever dares imagine. It is supernatural and it is super-wonderful.

It is not comfortable, it is wholly disturbing.

It is not special, it is exceedingly strange, and mysterious.

It is not strong, it is impossible.

And it’s the most fabulous thing that will re-make and re-form you from the inside out. It’s precisely what you, Paul and Catherine, have been made for, here, today, the two of you, by divine intention, for such a strange, mysterious, disturbing, impossible love that will make you feel at times as if you are tasting the delicious love of the inner being of God, of Father for Son for Holy Spirit ad infinitum.

Your love for each other in marriage will be a shadow of a greater reality: of God’s covenant love for his people whom he loves to death. Your marriage will become a participation in the drama of Christ’s love for his church. You’ll become, in ten minutes from now, the two newest actors on the stage of God’s theater of global redemption, if you will, on the Divine Globe Theater, where all the men and all the women are merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; and each couple in their own unique way plays their three, God-given roles: to image Christ’s love, to enact Christ’s love, and to announce Christ’s love.

You are here becoming a visual representation of Christ’s radiant love, a love that hopefully many will see and say, We have beheld a greater love.

You are here becoming a real time, moment by moment, in public and in private, seen and unseen actors who are acting out a script of self-sacrificing love that will make you more beautiful, more holy, and indeed more capable of pulling others into the action of divine salvation.

And your final role: In the bonds of marriage, in the burning furnace of marital love, you are prophetically announcing to the world that there is a Great Marriage that awaits the beloved in Christ, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the Great Wedding Feast, the festal Consummation of all our best passions and ambitions, and even dreams, where all that we thought good in this world will be experienced as something so fanstastically great that not even our best poets and artists, not even C. S. Lewis or Michaelangelo, will have come infinitesimally close to capturing it in their imaginations.

There is tragedy, there is comedy, this is the fairy tale part, the part that will be too good to be true, but it will be true and it will be too good.

Paul and Catherine, in your marriage you are not only practicing Christ’s sweet love here on earth, you are practicing the kind of love we will all experience purely in heaven. Your love is not only good for you, it is, by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, good for all your neighbors here on earth, and your neighbors in heaven. For indeed if two people marry it should not be good just for them, it should be good for everyone. And indeed it shall be with you, by God’s grace and mercy and the generous help of family and friends.

It is a great adventure you are setting upon. It will be wild and unpredictable. On occasion it will be really goofy. There’ll be lots of tedium and chores and Spring cleaning. But one thing it won’t be, in Christ Jesus, is boring. As God is my witness, that’s the last thing I can imagine the two of you letting it become.

So I say to you, finally: Follow the holy adventure wherever it will take you: higher than you think possible, lower than you think possible. You have a good guide, the Holy Spirit. Keep in step with him. You have a good community. Honor them. Trust Jesus at all times. Enjoy yourself. Submit yourselves one to another. And don’t ever stop venturing out where the wild things roam. For if you keep going far enough, together, you will eventually begin learning the ways of our impossible God.

Maybe you’ll even figure out how to fly.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.


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